Jennifer Zidon is living proof of the proverb ‘when one door closes, another one opens.’
Zidon graduated from Colorado State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in creative writing. A non-traditional student, she was in her mid-thirties and raising a family when she decided to pursue her passion of poetry. In 2012, she applied to the master of fine arts in creative writing program at CSU, but wasn’t accepted.
“That was a huge stumbling block because I wanted to be at the university level with poetry and thought I had found my calling,” Zidon reflected.
She took the rejection hard at first and even took a break from academia; however, little did she know that her true “calling” was about to come to light.
Zidon was listening to the radio when she heard an advertisement about CSU’s Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Arts Advocacy and the Public Institute for the Arts (LEAP) . The institute offers a master’s degree that prepares students with the skills and confidence to connect the arts with much needed administrative and organization skills. After hearing the radio spot, Zidon knew that this program was perfect for her.
“It led to a different degree program, which suits me in a better way. I’m still able to write poetry but also work with artists,” she said. With Zidon’s professional experience in community relations and her passion for the arts, the graduate program is giving her the tools and skills to connect the two.
Making a difference in the community
Zidon is using her education to further her 17-year-career at Barnes & Noble where she currently works full-time as their Community Relations Manager. She has developed a “bigger picture of how the community can work together,” thanks to her studies.
Outside of her current employment, Zidon is also using her skills to make connections with the local community. Through one of her courses, she was asked to run an arts-based program. Zidon invited three Fort Collins artists into local schools to run a Q&A panel called, “What an Artist Looks Like.” The artists—a musician, fabric artist, and poet—discussed their art and career for 15 minutes, and then the kids got to ask questions.
“The kids were really excited,” Zidon said. “Artists are everywhere and work in the community while making the world a better place.”
Zidon connected this panel to another community outreach effort she is part of: Realities for Children, a non-profit that helps Larimer County children who have been abused, neglected, or are at-risk.
Zidon worked to fill ten backpacks with donations from the artists on the panel – including journals from the poet and woven handkerchiefs from the fabric artist – in addition to other donated items such as books from Barnes & Noble, hygiene products, and socks.
Her education has even helped her husband’s organization, Biodiesel For Bands, which gives musicians the opportunity to tour in vehicles that use biodiesel fuels, as well as its sister company, Sustainable Touring for Artists, Musicians, and Performers.
“I want to give more opportunities for artists to be advocates for a better world,” Zidon said. “Artists can be on top of cutting-edge objectives, such as donating backpacks filled with goodies and sustainable touring.”
Zidon and her husband’s ultimate goal is to become full-time entrepreneurs and work for themselves while helping artists in a sustainable way.
“We’re in it for the long-haul but don’t know when that will be,” Zidon said. “We need to figure out expenses, hire a staff, and more.”
This December, Zidon will finish her Master of Arts in Leadership and Cultural Management after three years of juggling family, education, work, and extensive volunteering. “Making changes later in life is possible, and people shouldn’t be afraid to do it,” she said.
“It’s a relief where I can find a program, still do all of this stuff, and work in a sector that’s involved in the arts at the same time.”
Although the way has been challenging, Zidon looks forward to an equally busy, but rewarding future.